Sunday, December 6, 2015

Below the manhole covers . . .

Walking home the other day, I tripped . . . luckily, the shopping I was carrying cushioned my fall.
What had caused me to trip?
My heel had become stuck in a small opening in the pavement.  A manhole cover had been removed and someone had forgotten to replace it.

Not surprisingly, I now pay far more attention to the pavements I walk on, and what I've noticed has come as a considerable surprise.

Try it for yourself.  Look down as you walk through your neighbourhood.
You'll discover, as I did, that manhole covers are everywhere.
Small ones . . . large ones . . . holes covered in metal . . . holes covered in framed tarmac or concrete.

If you study them, you'll see that they allow access to gas pipes, to water pipes, to telephone cables, to electrical wiring, to sewers.  The ground beneath our feet isn't solid . . . on the contrary, it's an active workplace for all that's keeping the surface structure functioning.

This discovery spawned another discovery . . . the realisation of how little we appreciate all that's going on down below.
Unthinkingly, we switch on lights, turn on taps, and access the computer and the television.  When we pull out the plug in the bath, do we stop to consider where the dirty water is going?

Our tendency, it seems, is to place value and attention on the superstructure whilst taking the foundations for granted.  Yet the prized housing above ground would be no more than a useless shell if deprived of the vital utilities below.

These last few weeks have made it clear to all of us that there's something else we take for granted.  Below the manhole covers of our daily existence lie the essential components that underpin all life on this planet . . . namely air, water and sunshine.

Accepting the reality of climate change has forced us to peer cautiously beneath those manhole covers . . . and we've had a shock.

Did you know that, in 2004, nearly three hundred million people were effected by climate disasters, ninety-eight per cent of them in developing countries?
Or that, in the past thirty years, vast swathes of the African continent have been reduced from fertile farmland to arid dust?
Or that, according to Sergei Petrovskii, a professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Leicester, the warming oceans could seriously deplete the world's oxygen supply?

Did you realise that, as you read this, thousands of refugees are swarming northwards in Bangladesh, fleeing the rising sea levels engulfing their towns and villages?
Or, to come closer to home, that erratic rainfall in southern Europe is seriously impeding the UK's supply of citrus fruit and bananas.

The western media keeps such news firmly below the manhole covers, it was the opening of the Climate Change conference in Paris that enabled the facts to escape.

Click here to listen to the eloquence of Xiuhtezcatl, a fifteen-year-old delegate, when speaking of the global catastrophe that his generation is likely to inherit.

It's a week since the world's leaders gave their impassioned opening speeches in Paris, and much of the media have replaced the manhole covers on climate change.
Although the conference continues, you'd hardly know it.  We're more concerned with war and politics.

Is there anything we can do . . .  anything to ensure that we'll be walking the streets of the future?
Let's breathe in deeply, appreciating the oxygen available to us, and ponder that question.
Surely it's the one that really matters . . . ?